Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sherlock: The Hounds of the Baskervilles

It is my curse when it comes to BBC's Sherlock to not only to have to wait and see it when it shows in America, but so far to catch the first and most of the third episodes but entirely miss the second. Finding the dvds at the Library, finally got to see the 2nd episode of the 2nd season, "The Hounds of the Baskervilles".

When I first saw that was going to be the focus of the episode, I was not enthusiastic. "The Hound of the Baskervilles" is the most famous of the Sherlock Holmes stories and is of a novel length. As such, it's been filmed numerous times, and most of them highlight the problems of adapting a prose story to film, especially a story that Holmes is actually absent for about half of. It doesn't help either in that regard as most also labor under the preconception that Dr. Watson is a buffoon which hinders focusing the story heavily on him. Once Grenada did their excellent and faithful version with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke, I felt there should be a moratorium on future attempts.

However, Sherlock also does a great version of the story itself. In this episode, more than any other they manage the balancing act between updating the characters and stories and keeping true to the spirit of the original, presenting the story in such a way that the effect might be similar to the effect the original had with readers without making it a period piece.

It develops along similar lines, that a young man finds that a legendary monster hound that killed his father is rearing its head again, directing its attention towards him. Instead of supernatural origins, the legend of the hound is tied to rumors of an experiment gone wrong at nearby Baskerville government research facilities. There's lots of little nods to the original storyline while developing a moody and creepy mystery that taxes the limits of Sherlock's reasoning.

Using the original stories as guidelines and inspirations, Sherlock is to the works of Doyle what "Man of La Mancha" is to Don Quixote. It's not a straight-up adaptation of a work in one form to another, which allows it more freedom to move and breathe, and capture the spirit of the characters. This is where Sherlock has the edge over the similarly themed Elementary. Sherlock not only feels truer to the characters, but episodes like this are truer to what Doyle was attempting for his audience as well. There was no "mystery genre" with preconceived tropes and conventions for Doyle to write. Thus Holmes' cases ran the gamut of strange puzzles, suspense thrillers, bizarre murders, unexplained disappearances, retrieval of sensitive papers, etc. The stories were titled "The Adventure of..." not "The Case of..." or "The Mystery of..." Here, you have a mystery but it also works as gothic styled horror story. It's not simply a murder of the week procedural story. The requirement for a Sherlock Holmes case is not that a murder or intent of murder be involved as much as it should have an element of exotic color, mood or flair.

There's a lot of little gems in the acting and writing. Digs at people misconstruing the relationship between Holmes and Watson, casting Russell Tory, the werewolf from Being Human as the young man being tortured by visions of the legendary hound.

Might just be my second favorite filmed version of the story.

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